On a night when their flaws were exposed in the first half and their will was highlighted in the second, the Seahawks stared redemption in the face.
Here was a chance to accomplish precisely what they had come for, grab a division title, and grease their postseason path. Here was a chance to author one of their great comebacks in recent memory, to cap Marshawn Lynch’s return in epic fashion, and relegate their NFC West rival, the San Francisco 49ers, to the depths of the postseason seeding.
None of it happened in a 26-21 loss Sunday night at CenturyLink Field, not one bit, foiled in a surreal, cruel and thoroughly botched ending that had you muttering, “What the heck just happened?” And not just once.
Thus did the Seahawks ramp up their degree of difficulty, beginning with a 3,000-mile journey to Philadelphia made necessary because they couldn’t gain a lousy inch at the end.
Dropping from the No. 3 to No. 5 playoff seed in the NFC might be viewed by some as a backhanded gift – the injury-depleted Eagles loom as a potentially more vulnerable first-round foe than the Minnesota Vikings – but the Seahawks’ home-vs.-road playoff history screams otherwise.
When the Seahawks scored what they didn’t yet know would be their final touchdown Sunday night, quarterback Russell Wilson implored Seattle’s defense: “Just get the ball back. We’ll make it happen.”
Said cornerback Shaquill Griffin: “We believe in that.”
Indeed, conviction was rampant on the Seahawks sideline when the defense did deliver the ball back to Wilson trailing by five with a veritable eternity remaining: Two minutes and 27 seconds.
Coach Pete Carroll envisioned “a perfect win” when the ball ended up at the 1-yard line. Everyone had the same thought in unison, including (or especially) the Seahawks who had lived through the horror of Super Bowl XLIX. They had been presented with an opportunity that seemed preposterously theatrical: To hand the ball to Marshawn Lynch and send the already maniacal CenturyLink fans into insanity mode.
“I thought Marshawn was going to get the ball and run it in for a touchdown,” Seahawks linebacker Bobby Wagner said.
Nah, that would have been too perfect. And too easy. That’s simply not the Seahawks’ way in 2019. Seattle took its storybook ending, crossed it out and authored a horror show instead.
“The storybook ending, that’s usually reserved for movies, Hollywood movies,” right tackle Germain Ifedi said. “In real life, things don’t always have the happiest ending like that.”
This is the kind of game that can haunt the psyche, if the Seahawks let it. Which they can’t, with a playoff game Sunday in Philadelphia on the immediate docket.
“Anything you did in the regular season doesn’t matter, because if you lose that one game there’s not going to be another week you can bounce back,” Wagner said. “We’re confident, we understand how to win on the road. We definitely have to take that knowledge into the playoffs and play great.”
But first they need to flush an agonizing ending. You can look at any number of flash points in the final minute just involving tight end Jacob Hollister alone – Wilson overthrowing Hollister open in the end zone on a wheel route; Hollister getting mugged by 49ers linebacker Fred Warner in the end zone on the penultimate play, without a call or a review; and especially Hollister taking a pass from Wilson on fourth-and-five, and picking up 59 1/2 of the 60 inches needed to get in the end zone.
“I really do think I got in,” said Hollister, though the replay review concluded otherwise.
But it will be the delay-of-game penalty the Seahawks took from the 1, before Lynch even had a chance to replicate his earlier electrifying touchdown, that was the most stupefying. The penalty, which moved the ball back to the 5-yard line, was an inexcusable mistake that will haunt Carroll and the Seahawks.
“It was on everybody,” Hollister said. “We just weren’t organized enough.”
You can argue that being forced on the road is actually a fortuitous outcome for the Seahawks. After all, they are 7-1 away from home this season and 4-4 at home. The vaunted CenturyLink aura that led to a 22-2 record from 2012-14 is a distant memory. They are just 14-10 at home over the past three seasons. They will be facing an Eagles team that has had to dip heavily into its practice squad – and one the Seahawks beat at Lincoln Financial Field in November.
But the Seahawks are a team that still believes in the power of the 12s, and now it will take a virtual miracle to get them back home for the NFC title game (two wins, plus two victories by No. 6 seed Minnesota).
In franchise history, the Seahawks are 3-12 in road playoff games (not counting the neutral-site Super Bowls), and 12-2 at home – including 10 consecutive victories at CenturyLink dating to 2005. That is where they thrive in the postseason, current trends notwithstanding.
Now, however, they will cling to the fact they at least have some recent road success to draw from, after losing three of their final four regular-season games. They will also try to draw on their recovery from an absolutely dismal first half, in which San Francisco outgained Seattle 222-79. They desperately need the return from injury of safety Quandre Diggs, whose absence was exploited by the 49ers, as it had been a week earlier against Arizona. The loss of linebacker Mychal Kendricks, who tore a knee ligament Sunday night, is devastating.
Yet more than one Seahawk expressed the opinion they weren’t done with the 49ers this season.
“We’ll see them again” defensive end Jadeveon Clowney said. “It won’t end like that next time.”
It ended in a fashion offensive lineman D.J. Fluker said just amped up their hunger.
“We’re starving. Trust me. We’re starving, because that should have been won. The thing about it is, we have to regroup, look at what happened, and just go get it. We have to have a mentality that we can’t be denied right now.”
The Seahawks were denied in the agonizing tormenting way Sunday. And their life got that much tougher.